What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks, medically known as striae, are visibly permanent tears in the skin that are the result of accelerated stretching of the skin and increased hormone levels. These marks are usually associated with pregnancy, but they can happen to anyone that experiences some point of rapid growth. Stretch marks can afflict both genders, any skin complexion and any age group.
What are the symptoms of stretch marks?
Stretch marks are usually red, purple or white. They are also linear, jagged marks that will cause slight indentations to your skin. Stretch marks will appear on your body where the growth occurred, which would most likely be your abdomen, thighs, breasts, shoulders, upper arms, hips and/or buttocks.
What causes stretch marks?
Stretch marks are the result of damage to the deeper layer of your skin called the dermis. From extreme stretching of the skin and your adrenal glands releasing higher levels of the hormone cortisone, your skin’s elasticity weakens and tears occur in the dermis. The dermis is where the protein collagen is produced. Collagen is the protein that gives your skin its firmness, volume and elasticity. When your dermis has been damaged, it will interfere with your body’s ability to produce collagen in that area. This interference will cause your skin to create a visible malformation, like a stretch mark or scar.
There are many factors that can lead to your development of stretch marks and some of them are preventable. They include:
- Hormonal changes (puberty and pregnancy)
- Immense weight gain
- Immense weight loss
- Growth spurts
- Excessive use of cortisone creams
- Use of steroids
- Medical conditions (Cushing syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome)
How can stretch marks be treated?
By trying your best to prevent or avoid the previously mentioned causes, you might have better luck maintaining the current condition of your skin. Another important tip for prevention is to keep your skin hydrated inside and out. Keeping your skin moisturized will minimize the damage to your skin when you do experience short periods of growth. Since the development of stretch marks are highly dependent on your genetics, they can be difficult to prevent.
It is honestly quite difficult to treat stretch marks, and there is no cure to the condition. Over time, your stretch marks will fade to a white, silvery color. Unfortunately, the older the stretch mark is, the harder it is to treat. When your stretch marks are still red or purple, you should consult with a doctor to discuss your options.
Prescription topical creams containing retinoids can improve the appearance of your recent stretch marks, but they will have no affect on your old, faded stretch marks. A vitamin C serum and a gel containing hyaluronic acid can also help with the pigmentation of your recent stretch marks, while also promoting collagen production. The ideal treatment for stretch marks, especially older, faded ones, is laser technology. Lutronic’s Infini and Syneron’s Matrix RF laser treatments have shown to dramatically reduce the appearance of stretch marks and scars after multiple sessions. The Infini laser uses microneedles and the Matrix RF laser uses radiofrequency and fractional application. These treatments are similarly effective because they will both deeply penetrate your skin to stimulate cell re-growth and collagen production.
The following treatments are among those available to help improve the appearance of stretch marks. None has been proved to be more consistently successful than the others.
Some research has shown that tretinoin cream (Retin-A, Renova, Avita) may improve the appearance of recent stretch marks — those that are less than a few months old and still pink or red in color. If you’re pregnant or nursing, your doctor may opt to delay topical retinoid therapy or choose an alternative treatment. Tretinoin, when it works, helps to rebuild collagen, making the stretch mark look more like your normal skin. Tretinoin can irritate your skin. This treatment isn’t effective on older stretch marks.
Laser therapies use intense wavelengths of light to stimulate the growth of collagen, elastin or melanin production in your skin. Your doctor can help you determine which type of laser technology is appropriate for you, depending on the age and location of your stretch marks and your skin color.
This type of treatment involves a hand-held device that blows crystals onto skin. These crystals gently abrade, or “polish,” the skin’s surface. Then, a vacuum tube removes the crystals and skin cells. Microdermabrasion gently removes the skin’s topmost layer, prompting the growth of new, more-elastic skin. This therapy is an option for older stretch marks.